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Scientists Want To Keep Their Research Work Out of Court

timothy posted about 2 years ago | from the 10-million-dead-polar-bears-can't-be-wrong dept.

Privacy 288

concealment writes "How much privacy is the scientific process entitled to? During the course of their work, researchers produce e-mails, preliminary results, and peer reviews, all of which might be more confused or critical than the final published works. Recently, both private companies with a vested interest in discounting the results, and private groups with a political axe to grind have attempted to use the courts to get access to that material.Would it be possible or wise to keep these documents private and immune to subpoenas? In the latest issue of Science, a group of researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) argue that scientists need more legal rights to retain these documents and protect themselves in court."

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FP? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41526691)

Rather than granting special rights to groups, how about we go about fixing the process where said discoveries ought to be more difficult to procure?

Re:FP? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41526727)

Rather than granting special rights to groups, how about we go about fixing the process where said discoveries ought to be more difficult to procure?

Because we NEVER fix broken laws. It would be UnAmerican. And some corporation somewhere might make less money.

And that's what matters. We don't care about your puny humanitarian concerns.

Re:FP? (2)

oh_my_080980980 (773867) | about 2 years ago | (#41527603)

The did - from the article:

"Before the BP subpoena, WHOI researchers had already voluntarily released 52,000 pages to BP, which they claim included all the necessary information to replicate and confirm their analyses."

BP went on a fishing expedition asking for private correspondence, such as e-mails, in order to casting doubt on the researchers’ work.

Motives (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41526693)

There are discoveries made for the sake of discovery and those made for financial gain.

As long as we can support the latter without destroying the former, proceed.

Re:Motives (4, Insightful)

stranger_to_himself (1132241) | about 2 years ago | (#41526721)

There are discoveries made for the sake of discovery and those made for financial gain.

As long as we can support the latter without destroying the former, proceed.

Agreed. I would happily share all of my correspondence and preliminary analysis if it means GlaxoSmithKline has to share theirs.

Re:Motives (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41527203)

GlaxoSmithKline

is a person with more rights than you

Re:Motives (4, Interesting)

nbauman (624611) | about 2 years ago | (#41527275)

Actually, GSK does have to share all their correspondence and preliminary analysis when they get sued. That's where we get a lot of the good stuff. Look up the tobacco industry documents online.

In the US, at least, a judge can order anyone -- even someone who isn't a party to the lawsuit -- to disclose any information that's "in the interests of justice."

I was once sitting through a drug patent lawsuit and they had admitted into evidence a guy's entire 4-drawer file cabinet. They digitized every page, put it in a database, and were projecting it onto a screen in the courtroom.

Re:Motives (2)

Troyusrex (2446430) | about 2 years ago | (#41527489)

There are discoveries made for the sake of discovery and those made for financial gain.

As long as we can support the latter without destroying the former, proceed.

There is ABSOLUTELY no way to tell the difference in most cases. Since "discovery" research is usually funded the researchers have quite a strong vested financial interest in it. Moreover, don't you think GlaxoSmithKline will just classify every scrap of research they possibly can as "for the sake of discovery". It'll be like Hollywood accounting.

Helping to Keep it Secret... (5, Insightful)

SirAstral (1349985) | about 2 years ago | (#41526709)

Helps them to be dishonest about results and the research.

It is Science folks... what purpose is served by keeping it secret? Unless someone is up to no good eh?

Re:Helping to Keep it Secret... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41526771)

How are those tax returns coming, Mitt?

Re:Helping to Keep it Secret... (0)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | about 2 years ago | (#41526983)

You mean the ones he published last week?

Re:Helping to Keep it Secret... (0, Offtopic)

interkin3tic (1469267) | about 2 years ago | (#41527197)

No, he probably means his tax returns from more than the last two years in which he was running for president and knew he would have to disclose. The tax returns he may not have realized anyone would ever see, so he may have felt entitled to cheap out on even more than he did with the tax returns he DID release.

Re:Helping to Keep it Secret... (-1, Offtopic)

sycodon (149926) | about 2 years ago | (#41527377)

Mitt was very generous in charitable giving. Far more generous than Obama/Biden combined, both in real dollar terms and percentage terms. Then he didn't deduct all the charitable giving he was entitled to and subsequently paid a higher tax rate.

And you are unhappy why? Is your world view turned upside down now? Can't focus in the morning anymore?

Re:Helping to Keep it Secret... (-1, Offtopic)

Type44Q (1233630) | about 2 years ago | (#41527541)

Mitt was very generous in charitable giving.

Have you researched the "supposedly charitable" organizations that he donated to? Remember, nobody who isn't a complete sociopath advances as far politically as he has, not in this fucked-up day and age...

Re:Helping to Keep it Secret... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41527587)

Most of his "charitable giving" is to the disgustingly-wealthy and highly-secretive Mormon church, much of which he does, indeed, write off -- a relationship from which he benefits immensely. Stop being obtuse.

Re:Helping to Keep it Secret... (0)

readin (838620) | about 2 years ago | (#41527383)

"cheap out"? So I'm assuming you don't take every deduction available to you but instead you volunteer more than you legally owe?

BTW, I haven't read Romney's tax returns. How much were his taxes reduced by charitable deductions? I hear it was significant. (That would be nice - a politician who prefers to his own money to help the poor instead of using other people's money)

Re:Helping to Keep it Secret... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41527523)

Somebody mod this shit off topic please.

Re:Helping to Keep it Secret... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41527119)

Downmod because you know it's true, and don't want anyone to see it. Fscking hypocrite.

Re:Helping to Keep it Secret... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41526799)

They have to publish their methods. The problem is that if preliminary information is published, its easier for people to accuse them of bias without judging them based on their findings. This isn't science, that's politics. We need to keep politics out of science. What matters are the final published results. Those are the findings that they are saying, "Here is our data, we believe this is reproducible." If it's not independently verifiable, that will come out soon enough. If they practice good science, and peer review backs their findings, who cares if they initially had biases before the experiment began?

Re:Helping to Keep it Secret... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41526999)

If it's not independently verifiable, that will come out soon enough. If they practice good science, and peer review backs their findings,

And that is the essence of science. We don't need any other vetting or scrutiny.

Re:Helping to Keep it Secret... (1)

Nutria (679911) | about 2 years ago | (#41527617)

Except that it can take time, sometimes a long time, to suss out fraud, by which time the paper has been frequently cited and become Truth.

Re:Helping to Keep it Secret... (1)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about 2 years ago | (#41527153)

If they practice good science every step should be grounded in good science and not be subject to validly criticism.

Of course it is entirely understandable where an unofficial conversation where the person is not trying too hard to find perfect wording could be mis-understood.

But I think it is important to be able to see a scientists method in action to gauge if what the report says is actually what happened.

Re:Helping to Keep it Secret... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41527251)

But I think it is important to be able to see a scientists method in action to gauge if what the report says is actually what happened.

that's what peer-reviewing is for and reproducing the results. if you want to live in a 1984-like world: be my guest, but don't put anyone else under that kind of environment.

Re:Helping to Keep it Secret... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41527625)

Your argument sounds a little bit like this: "when musicians are composing a song, every note has to sound harmonious to the ear." It's silly to expect preliminary work to match the standards of something that is published. You will find all sorts of flaws and faulty reasoning, that's how it works.

Re:Helping to Keep it Secret... (5, Insightful)

Rostin (691447) | about 2 years ago | (#41527495)

The truth will out "eventually", but that's not always fast enough. You should check out the book Plastic Fantastic, which is about the Schön scandal [wikipedia.org] . The careers of many innocent people who wasted years of their PhD training trying to replicate fraudulent results were ruined in that little episode. Schön was asked repeatedly to provide access to his samples, to more clearly describe his methodology, and the like, but kept finding excuses to avoid doing so. He was only found out when suspicious researchers in his area noticed that the noise in the results of multiple experiments was identical, likely having been faked using the same random numbers. It's a classic example of the inadequacy of our current way of doing and reporting science to quickly identify fraud.

Re:Helping to Keep it Secret... (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41526807)

The purpose may be allowing people to speculate more freely in internal email without having to worry about email quotes later being taken out of context. It's the same reason why I don't keep my customer CCed when I'm working with engineering or operations to resolve an issue.

Sometimes it's nice to speak freely.

Re:Helping to Keep it Secret... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41526899)

It's not simply "nice," it's essential. Telling scientists that every conversation they have with someone has to be safe enough to put in a press release just means they will refuse to talk to other people via email.

Re:Helping to Keep it Secret... (1)

FhnuZoag (875558) | about 2 years ago | (#41527173)

Or worse, refuse to even consider possibilities that might appear politicially incorrect.

Re:Helping to Keep it Secret... (1)

readin (838620) | about 2 years ago | (#41527403)

That already happens. Remember Lawrence Summers?

Re:Helping to Keep it Secret... (1)

Russ1642 (1087959) | about 2 years ago | (#41527277)

The would no longer be able to speculate, guess, make mistakes that are later corrected, and any number of things that are essential to the process. The scientific process pretty much grinds to halt.

Re:Helping to Keep it Secret... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41527003)

That is true. There is a significant amount discussion that goes on during research, leading up to publication in response to new ideas, relating to problems that arise and are subsequently resolved, and compromises that must be made due to financial and/or technical limitations, and so forth. For somebody with an ax to grind, as has become increasingly frequent these days, it would be trivial to take such discussions out of context to sow doubt about the results of _any_ research project, and would force scientists to be extremely guarded in their internal communications, which would simply be a detriment to everyone involved in research.

Re:Helping to Keep it Secret... (3, Interesting)

jellomizer (103300) | about 2 years ago | (#41527419)

Todays culture we have too much information, and most of us are not taught to leave it alone unless it really affects us.
Yes a lot of the information is important, but it really isn't important to use to get all ruffled up about.

We hear all this stuff back and forth digging up dirt on everyone. And what do we learn? Nothing, because this information really isn't important to us. We get emotional about it but we are not enlighten from it.

During the engineering process we come up with small roadblocks. We need a little help an extra eye a new idea. It is one of those setbacks that you have already adjusted in your quote for... If the customer gets that information they will get all emotional about it... however they will not gain any real insight from it. I am going to use a plastic part instead of metal, because it will save the unit cost down, and the metal has a tendency to bend and will need more servicing. The customer will see this as just a cost cutting measure and they will be getting an inferior product, while it is just a case where plastic is a better material than metal for that component.
The customer rarely understands the process and if shown to them will panic because there is a degree of testing and fixing a caos involved, and it isn't just draft, produce, and sell.

And What Horrible Things Are You Up To? (5, Insightful)

eldavojohn (898314) | about 2 years ago | (#41526883)

It is Science folks... what purpose is served by keeping it secret? Unless someone is up to no good eh?

Agreed comrade! Now, why are you not sharing your personal e-mails and work e-mails with me? Unless someone is up to no good, eh? Surely your business is as "pure" as Science?

When did we drop the "privacy is a human right" mantra on Slashdot? I really miss that. Scientists are humans. Their work should be public if it was paid by the public. Their work should be public if they wish for it to be peer reviewed. But what purpose does opening up their communication hold? If they really wanted to be "up to no good" surely they would merely find another way to communicate than the e-mails that are published? Will this solve anything? Scientists are humans, not slaves. E-mails about picking their kid up from soccer at a time and place should be kept private, even if they use their work e-mail. E-mails where they call a colleague bad names in confidence to a lab assistant should be kept private. Etc. Etc.

If their work involved wrong doing then it should be presented as evidence in court regardless of who paid for it. My biggest concern here is when these court investigations of scientists are politically motivated witch hunts [slashdot.org] .

Re:And What Horrible Things Are You Up To? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41526981)

It is Science folks... what purpose is served by keeping it secret? Unless someone is up to no good eh?

Agreed comrade! Now, why are you not sharing your personal e-mails and work e-mails with me? Unless someone is up to no good, eh? Surely your business is as "pure" as Science?

When did we drop the "privacy is a human right" mantra on Slashdot? I really miss that. Scientists are humans. Their work should be public if it was paid by the public. Their work should be public if they wish for it to be peer reviewed. But what purpose does opening up their communication hold? If they really wanted to be "up to no good" surely they would merely find another way to communicate than the e-mails that are published? Will this solve anything? Scientists are humans, not slaves. E-mails about picking their kid up from soccer at a time and place should be kept private, even if they use their work e-mail. E-mails where they call a colleague bad names in confidence to a lab assistant should be kept private. Etc. Etc.

If their work involved wrong doing then it should be presented as evidence in court regardless of who paid for it. My biggest concern here is when these court investigations of scientists are politically motivated witch hunts [slashdot.org] .

Nice straw man.

He's not trying to convince you to spend trillions of dollars on something.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.

If you're "correcting" the raw data - you'd damn well better provide that raw data, and the method(s) used to correct it. Along with the reason(s).

And if it can't withstand daylight - it's suspect.

Re:And What Horrible Things Are You Up To? (3, Insightful)

FhnuZoag (875558) | about 2 years ago | (#41527073)

"And if it can't withstand daylight - it's suspect."

Says the anonymous coward.

Re:And What Horrible Things Are You Up To? (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41527381)

"And if it can't withstand daylight - it's suspect."

Says the anonymous coward.

The source of a logical argument is irrelevant.

If the data, methods, and reasoning used to support a scientific conclusion can't withstand daylight, the conclusion is worthless.

Whether you like it or not.

Re:And What Horrible Things Are You Up To? (2)

jythie (914043) | about 2 years ago | (#41527089)

In this case, it sounds like the provided the raw data, but BP is asking for internal and peer review correspondences. Significant difference if accurate.

Re:And What Horrible Things Are You Up To? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41527349)

And if it can't withstand daylight - it's suspect.

I want to see all of your bank statements from the past 36 months. I need these to know you aren't an oil company shill. Also, a key to the front door of your house, just so I can check to see if you have piles of cash that they might have given you to avoid scrutiny of your bank account. You can withstand daylight, so this shouldn't be a problem, right?

Re:And What Horrible Things Are You Up To? (3, Interesting)

neonv (803374) | about 2 years ago | (#41527267)

Research data should be made available to the public for the sake of peer review. Emails and other communication should not be because that would that create a biased opinion for those that read the emails, and emails need freedom to make conjecture without being held to those conjectures for final theories.

Re:And What Horrible Things Are You Up To? (3, Insightful)

vlm (69642) | about 2 years ago | (#41527347)

E-mails about picking their kid up from soccer at a time and place should be kept private, even if they use their work e-mail. E-mails where they call a colleague bad names in confidence to a lab assistant should be kept private.

How do you handle NDAs? I make microwave amplifiers. In my daydream, I come up with a way to make the Worlds Best 1420 MHz preamp. For irrelevant business reasons I'm not able to capitalize on it or even afford the legal docs to patent. But I'll sell my one and only prototype to Big Ole Radio Telescope.gov outta the goodness of my heart and if they sign the usual NDA, I'll email discuss how to properly install it. Their emails get released because a bunch of cranks believe the world was created in 4000 BC so any discussion of stuff more than 6000 light years away is blasphemous hate speech they must use the legal system to stamp out. My signed NDAs can't keep my amplifier secret; I'm pissed.

At a research lab, this is not as far fetched as you might think.

Re:And What Horrible Things Are You Up To? (0)

eldavojohn (898314) | about 2 years ago | (#41527527)

Isn't this already covered by most if not all NDAs [wikipedia.org] ?

types of permissible disclosure - such as those required by law or court order (many NDAs require the receiving party to give the disclosing party prompt notice of any efforts to obtain such disclosure, and possibly to cooperate with any attempt by the disclosing party to seek judicial protection for the relevant confidential information).

Furthermore before you sign an NDA, you should know that lack of such clauses might put you in a bind in the future [oncontracts.com] . Yeah it sucks but there are very few perfect systems.

Their emails get released because a bunch of cranks believe the world was created in 4000 BC so any discussion of stuff more than 6000 light years away is blasphemous hate speech they must use the legal system to stamp out.

I'm pretty sure that if that is their verbatim argument that a judge will not grant their wishes nor a court order for you to turn over everything to them.

My signed NDAs can't keep my amplifier secret; I'm pissed.

Perhaps you should have skipped "outta the goodness of your heart" and instead of signing with BORT went into business with yourself or someone a lot more competent :) In that position, every route you take has risks. You could lack the funds to start up your company and go belly up prematurely. You could get screwed by a wealthy financier. Etc. Etc. That's capitalism, man. It's up to you to decide where you want to select your risk/reward to lie from available real world options.

At a research lab, this is not as far fetched as you might think.

I'd love to hear more realistic problems with this system -- if you are at liberty to discuss them.

Re:Helping to Keep it Secret... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41526939)

It is Science folks... what purpose is served by keeping it secret? Unless someone is up to no good eh?

They're not talking about keeping data or methods secret.

The main theme running through TFA is about a wrangle between some folks at WHOI and BP over the DeepWater Horizon spill. WHOI did a lot of work to gauge things like the amount of oil being released, and BP claim they need this data to wrangle out how much they have to pay in damages. An important quote from the article is:

Before the BP subpoena, WHOI researchers had already voluntarily released 52,000 pages to BP, which they claim included all the necessary information to replicate and confirm their analyses. The researchers argue that private correspondence, such as e-mails between researchers and the comments of peer reviewers, should remain a confidential part of the deliberative scientific process

So BP aren't trying to force the release of the data or calculations because they've already got all of that and it was given up willingly. They're trying to force the release of every email, letter, note, text or other exchange of information which took place during the research.

The question is, if BP want to argue about the WHOI results then why do they need more than the raw data, methods and conclusions which they've already been given? Why do they need to trawl through every single piece of private correspondence, regardless of how relevant or important, to assess whether or not the results they have are good?

If they think the data is rotten they should lay their cards on the table and say why, and then subpoena every communication related to that particular facet of the research. Trying to obtain absolutely everything by force for no stated reason is begging for a fishing trip and some out of context quotes.

Re:Helping to Keep it Secret... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41526955)

My correspondence contains ample information having nothing to do with the research I'm doing, and instead pertains to peer reviews of other people's work and grant applications, as well as sometimes personal information regarding students doing their studies, and the occasional conversation with human resources regarding my job and other personal concerns.

Who are you going to hire to sort through all that, and who will defend me when someone inevitably claims I'm still "hiding" something by keeping research-irrelevant private conversations private?

Nobody's saying scientific data should be private, especially if publicly funded. It shouldn't be. If you publish a paper the data should be available for people to evaluate. That's what the peer-review process should ensure: that all the data relevant to the interpretations in the paper is available and/or that procedures are sufficiently documented that someone could duplicate the results themselves. But making e-mail and other communications generally public is silly and impractical. If you have a properly-justified warrant or subpoena, sure, have at it. That stuff shouldn't be immune from criminal proceedings. Otherwise there's simply no reason to poke around in there.

E-mail, preliminary results, peer reviews != scientific data. It's the final presentation in the published literature and the data presented to back that up that matters scientifically. Idle or critical conversations in e-mail aren't relevant.

Re:Helping to Keep it Secret... (3, Insightful)

jythie (914043) | about 2 years ago | (#41527121)

Who are you going to hire to sort through all that, and who will defend me when someone inevitably claims I'm still "hiding" something by keeping research-irrelevant private conversations private?

I think that is one of the big reasons they do stuff like this. The cost of sorting through the emails and redacting personal information is probably significant, so BP is saying 'give us the results we want, or we will make you spend months and maybe millions redacting stuff no one will read'. Pure punishment.

Re:Helping to Keep it Secret... (5, Insightful)

FhnuZoag (875558) | about 2 years ago | (#41526997)

Research data has to be shared for the sake of peer review. But the main problem I see with totally public access is that the public aren't ready for it. In a public arena where people jump on evolutionists for using the word 'theory', or pull all sorts of quotes out of context from leaked climate research emails, publication will just lead to a massive and distracting shitstorm that all scientists want to avoid.

It's fine to ask scientists to show their working, but what's usually being asked in these cases is for scientists to expose all the minutiae of their thinking, their process of coming up with hypotheses, and so on, most of which is irrelevant to the final produce of Evidence->Conclusion. And really, no one can work in such an environment where you have to guard all your words and thoughts carefully lest someone picks it out at some later date. It would be a hugely oppressive work environment, subjected to a group of people who are generally kinda private individuals. Even the Soviet Union understood that they need to afford these people a little privacy.

Re:Helping to Keep it Secret... (4, Interesting)

jonadab (583620) | about 2 years ago | (#41527091)

> But the main problem I see with totally public
> access is that the public aren't ready for it.

The public weren't (and aren't) ready for the internet, yet here it is. Previously, the public very manifestly weren't ready for the horseless carriage, but we take cars very much for granted now.

Some things in life you don't get to be ready for.

Re:Helping to Keep it Secret... (4, Insightful)

jythie (914043) | about 2 years ago | (#41527031)

Fishing expeditions like BP's are not looking for secrets,. they are looking to find sound bytes they can then take to the court of public opinion or regulators in order to convince non-scientists that 'those scientists are up to no good, see, they called it a statistical trick!'. They are not asking for the science, they are asking for the personal conversations between scientists... the same type of thing that the same companies argue would hamper national security or trade secrets if outsiders saw their's.

Re:Helping to Keep it Secret... (2)

breech1 (137095) | about 2 years ago | (#41527151)

Or it could be a work in progress. During research, there's lots of communication about the interpretation of data, what other values should be recorded, is this true data or a bug in the simulation, and so on. If you had a political axe to grind, you could easily cherry pick that communication to feed the stupid conspiracy theories. You could hope that the general public would be smart enough to understand that, but intelligence is the first casualty of politics.

Re:Helping to Keep it Secret... (3, Interesting)

interkin3tic (1469267) | about 2 years ago | (#41527333)

For one thing, I think scientists are generally more honest than, say, politicians. Full disclosure: I AM a scientist, so I'm biased, but scientists don't go into science for the money. They don't go into it to lie to people. My experience has been that most scientists will admit when they're wrong and will not try to publish fraudulent research, if for no other reason than people are going to likely be repeating their experiments if they're of any importance.

For another, no one makes everything public in any profession. Why should scientists be held to such a high standard compared to law enforcement, lawyers, or politicians? Don't we provide a valuable enough service compared to politicians?

Cost is also a concern in some cases. In terms of time and in terms of storage. In my thesis work, I generated about two terabytes of raw data, most of which was useless even to me. I'm sure the costs to store it wouldn't be monumental, but for how little value anyone would get out of it, it doesn't seem worth it right now. Sorting through e-mails relevant to the work and scrubbing all my personal data out of my lab notebook would also be time that would be wasted.

Lastly, TFS touches on a good enough reason. "If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him." The loudest voices crying out for releasing everything are the global warming deniers and creationists, and they clearly want it not to pursue truth but to discredit legitimate science.

Re:Helping to Keep it Secret... (2)

Velex (120469) | about 2 years ago | (#41527551)

Helps them to be dishonest about results and the research.

Let's look at a good example. The recent circumcision story is still coming up for me when I'm not logged in as a relevant story to a lot of articles. In the comments, many other Slashdotters and I trotted out one of the most pseudoscientific justifications for routine male genital mutilation: a "study" that showed that circumcision somehow reduces the risk of AIDS transmission.

What interesting things might come to light if we had access to the private communications of the AAP when they came to their decision that routine infant male genital mutilation is somehow "good" for men? Why was a woman even involved in the AAP's 2012 statement on routine male genital mutilation when I've been simultaneously told that as a man I have no right to say anything about abortion, something that only affects a woman for 9 months, not permanently? What ties and interests does John Hopkins University have in promoting routine male genital mutilation?

There's a whole lot that could come to light if we knew those things. But that's not science. That's politics.

Science is looking at the methodology employed in that study and going, "Hey... wait a second. WTF?" However, that study is just one glaringly obvious work of pseudoscience in a sea of much more subtle social and psychological and other "soft science."

As others have pointed out already, the only possible purpose releasing private communications (or communications that had been intended to be private) has is service politics. We want our nitty-gritty he said she said. We want that one email that shows that data was modified (the horror) to produce a hockey stick graph, not the hundreds of other emails or the methodology that led to the hockey stick graph.

The scientific method is self-correcting. If you publish something I think is bull, then I can do more research and publish something else.

If I say that routine male genital mutilation has no side effects and that it protects from AIDS and HPV transmission, then I need to run an experiment. Give me a thousand male babies, mutilate 500 of them, and leave the other 500 intact. Now observe. Are the mutilated ones more likely to develop autism or aspergers? Are they more likely to develop emotional outbursts and anger problems? Are they more likely to have an increased pain response during routine vaccinations? How many of the unmutilated control group died from UTI?

Then we keep watching them. Is the experiment group really less likely to contract HIV or AIDS or HPV and transmit those diseases to sexual partners? How do the average number of sexual partners before age 30 compare between the two groups? What about infidelity? Or is one group more prone to suicide than the other?

Now that's science.

Now, if I find myself in a position years later to actually conduct such a study, and if I conclude that the AAP is full of shit, are you going to dig up my anti-mutilation Slashdot posts and call bias in the face of concrete fact?

That's the difference between science and politics.

public scientists should not hide data (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41526717)

No certain scientist want to keep their data hidden. Sorry, if you are public ally funded then show your data.. if you are advocating policies and tion based on your findings. You better show your data and methods for scrutiny.

Re:public scientists should not hide data (5, Insightful)

Baloroth (2370816) | about 2 years ago | (#41527007)

No certain scientist want to keep their data hidden. Sorry, if you are public ally funded then show your data.. if you are advocating policies and tion based on your findings. You better show your data and methods for scrutiny.

Just to be perfectly 100% clear: this has nothing, in any way, shape, or form, anything whatsoever to do with the data or methods.

This is about the personal communications and rough drafts between the scientists. You know, the emails you send saying "Hey John could you take a look at "x" again, I want to know what you personally think?" or "Wanna go out for a beer later?" or "What do you think of the phrasing of "y"?"Stuff that has nothing to do with the science at all, but which could easily be cherry-picked by someone with a motive (and BP has one hell of a motive) to discredit someones work and/or reputation, with no chance for them to defend themselves. Some of it might be completely wrong and have been thrown out in the end results, yet could be trumpeted as part of the final answer by an interested party (even if that is a lie, some people would do exactly that).

So yes, it should probably stay hidden: it's irrelevant, and even if it was, letting (basically) only one side rip into it is completely biased.

Re:public scientists should not hide data (1)

MozeeToby (1163751) | about 2 years ago | (#41527249)

I agree that it should stay hidden, but it should be noted that there should also be exceptions. If there is probably cause to suspect fraud there does need to be a process that a warrant can be issued. Maybe it's assumed by everyone in the "it should be kept secret" side of things that a warrant would override those protections, but I still think it should be mentioned. The question is, what would the crime be? Is it illegal in and of itself to falsify data for scientific publishing? Even if they aren't receiving public funds? I doubt it. I think those questions need to be cleared up, because while there is an expectation of privacy, there should also be some way for the legal system to force the release if there is legitimate evidence of tampering.

OK, so where does this happen? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41527115)

CRU? Nope, their data was open. The data from someone else who said they couldn't publish wasn't.

Mann? Nope, his data was open.

(PS how much funding counts as government funding for the purposes of "you work for me"? And doesn't the WL stuff constitute information done by the government on your dime?)

Re:public scientists should not hide data (3, Interesting)

jythie (914043) | about 2 years ago | (#41527185)

Actually, many scientists want to keep their data hidden for a time. It is kinda like patents and copyrights, gathering data can be time consuming, expensive, and unrewarding. It is the analysis that gets you credit, so generally scientists want a window where they have exclusive access to their data in order to be first to work with it. There have been some nasty events where some research group got a hold of someone else's data before they were done with it and scooped the glory without having done the unglamorous work.

If your beef is with the science (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41526741)

If your beef is with the science then you should be after the method. In the journals. Then redo the result and post your results.

If your beef is with the scientist, then you should say so right up front and persue it like any civil action against a person.

Re:If your beef is with the science (2)

PPH (736903) | about 2 years ago | (#41527195)

If your beef is with the scientist, then you should say so right up front and persue it like any civil action against a person.

Hence the reference to a subpoena in the summary. That is issued by a court, meaning that there is a civil (or possibly criminal if the research involves public funds) action underway.

Judges have the power to allow or disallow evidence in court. So if the subject e-mails contain material not pertinent to the case, its a simple matter to have that redacted. If the content has bearing on the case, the judge can (and should) allow it.

If this is just an issue of the public's right to see the data and methods, then the e-mails aren't necessary. As long as pertinent data and methodology is documented in some form.

That's the point (4, Interesting)

Jiro (131519) | about 2 years ago | (#41526769)

Being able to subpoena anything pretty much means having it done by people who have an ax to grind, or to benefit someone with an ax to grind.

It's like asking "should the police be able to arrest suspects?" The answer is that clearly it's not a good idea for the police to arrest anyone they want to, and that we need to make rules about who the police can arrest, but on the other hand, we shouldn't just say "the police should never arrest anyone". Arrests are necessary to catch suspects, and catching suspects is necessary because some of them will turn out to be criminals.

Sometimes people with an ax to grind will need to see scientists' documents, and actually use them to discredit the scientists--but that's not a reason not to do it--that's the whole point of doing it, just like sometimes people will be arrested, tried, and put in jail.

Re:That's the point (0, Troll)

interkin3tic (1469267) | about 2 years ago | (#41527375)

But the police are at least in theory impartial. The people who are paid to smear the climate change research, on the other hand, fuck their axe.

If you receive public dollars to do research... (3, Insightful)

BMOC (2478408) | about 2 years ago | (#41526795)

Then any e-mail that pertains to the research that the public paid for is public information.

Why any scientist would request privacy protections is beyond me. Science is, by definition, supposed to be an open process of record.

Re:If you receive public dollars to do research... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41527005)

For the last time, Galtard, the GOVERNMENT IS NOT YOUR SLAVE. You only own the part you can vote for.

Re:If you receive public dollars to do research... (5, Insightful)

0racle (667029) | about 2 years ago | (#41527191)

Scientist 1 email: "I don't see how this supports your hypothesis"
Scientist 2 email: "Ya, it was a little messy, I didn't explain it clearly. Here you go"
Scientist 1 email: "A yes, I see what you're seeing now."

Group opposed to Scientist 1 and 2's work subpoenas their emails, public hears this:
Group releases only Scientist 1's first email.
Group: "See Scientist 1 says the data doesn't support their claims. They're lying, follow the money" and so on.

Re:If you receive public dollars to do research... (1)

readin (838620) | about 2 years ago | (#41527297)

So you're saying it's like anyone else who uses email whether it be businessmen, families, politicians or public servants. I certainly agree that the ability to subpoena can be abused, but I think that applies to everyone not just to scientists. We should be careful to respect everyone's privacy, not just scientists.

Re:If you receive public dollars to do research... (1)

0racle (667029) | about 2 years ago | (#41527673)

Very good, and I did not intend to suggest that scientists deserve anything special. The GP however, went the other way, scientists getting pubic funding deserve no privacy.

Re:If you receive public dollars to do research... (4, Insightful)

nbauman (624611) | about 2 years ago | (#41527193)

Because there are people like James O'Keefe around http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ACORN_2009_undercover_videos_controversy [wikipedia.org] who aren't interested in science, and don't even understand the science, but want to use information to damage their opponents in elections.

One of the problems with the East Anglia climate change emails was that people who didn't understand (or care about) the science took snippits out of context and used them in misleading and defamatory ways. For example, they seized on the term "trick", and claimed that it meant that he was trying to deceive people, when actually it was referring to a mathematical trick. Those scientists lost about 2 years defending themselves against baseless accusations.

Scientist don't want to spend hundreds of hours fending off phone calls and ambush journalists from Fox News. That's not the open process of science, it's just harassment by people who don't intend to give you a fair hearing in the first place, and don't understand or care about the science.

A lot of times, these people are working for corporations or industries that are trying to attack the science even when they know that the science is right.

A lot of times, as in the lead poisoning cases, these requests can lead to legal depositions, where in addition to hundreds of hours of time, they can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees. And they don't get the legal fees back from the other side.

Re:If you receive public dollars to do research... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41527335)

My e-mail contains a lot more than scientific research.

Doesn't help public sector transparency (2)

ajdlinux (913987) | about 2 years ago | (#41526809)

As much as this may be beneficial to scientists, I feel that in the case of publicly-funded institutions, it would set a bad precedent for the overall cause of public sector transparency. It has been a long, hard fight for increased transparency in government (FOI laws and such) and I think creating an exception for scientific agencies doesn't send the right message.

I agree, it should be available to everyone - but (1)

na1led (1030470) | about 2 years ago | (#41526829)

Can we really trust people with all this information? Scientists usually have good intentions; it’s how the rest of the bad people use it for their own evil purposes. I think there should be some oversight, but I don't we can just trust everyone with potentially dangerous ideas.

Re:I agree, it should be available to everyone - b (1)

mpoulton (689851) | about 2 years ago | (#41526877)

Can we really trust people with all this information? Scientists usually have good intentions; it’s how the rest of the bad people use it for their own evil purposes. I think there should be some oversight, but I don't we can just trust everyone with potentially dangerous ideas.

Jesus, man. What country are you from? To an American, this sounds like Orwell's dystopia. Trusting people with potentially dangerous ideas???

Re:I agree, it should be available to everyone - b (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41527221)

Slashdot duplicity:
Instructions on how to make a bioweapon should be public. Evidence that the "extroverts are stupider" study did not bother to record that the extroverts studied were drunk at the time needs to be protected from courts.

As an introvert who spends his days annoyed at cowrokers who don't know how to go 5 minutes without making verbal noises (half the time they aren't even words), I would be inclined to believe my hypothetical second example, but I would be more concerned that the claim actually be tested well.

Emails are not peer reviewed science (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41526849)

When scientists publish their results, they publish their methods and data along with it. Their personal emails are not peer reviewed science and should not have to be published for everyone to read. If there's something wrong with their methods then you should find it in the work they actually published, not some random email they sent out at 4 am without thinking about.

Re:Emails are not peer reviewed science (5, Insightful)

E-Rock (84950) | about 2 years ago | (#41527201)

Unless you're suing them and this lets them shield the e-mail to their lab tech that says "sample set B is really screwing up our results, go ahead and shred any copies you have and I'll update the findings."

Re:Emails are not peer reviewed science (0)

mvdwege (243851) | about 2 years ago | (#41527561)

You know, if you can't even read, you shouldn't post your blovation on science.

GP post specifically mentioned that scientists publish their methods, so if your hypothetical 'scientist' instructs their lab tech to destroy samples, guess what? That will come out as soon as someone tries to replicate the study.

Go ask Ponsman and Fleisch how that mechanism works.

Mart

Re:Emails are not peer reviewed science (2)

Score Whore (32328) | about 2 years ago | (#41527291)

One would think that personal emails should not be mixed in with work product, no? If you are discussing -- via email -- how to clean up your data with a colleague because your results are not matching with your intuition, the fact that you had that discussion is relevant to your research. The fact that you added a postscript passing along your wife's complements about what a wonderful time she had last night during your wife-swap doesn't make the email less relevant to your work, it's just poor judgement.

Re:Emails are not peer reviewed science (1)

MozeeToby (1163751) | about 2 years ago | (#41527303)

On the other hand, if someone steps forward and says "Our team falsified data, everyone on the team knew about it, and the emails would prove it" there needs to be a way legally get access to those emails. Access shouldn't be about the email at 4AM that someone didn't think hard enough before sending, but access should be granted for the email sent at 2 in the afternoon, detailing how/what/which data should be changed.

Re:Emails are not peer reviewed science (2)

scamper_22 (1073470) | about 2 years ago | (#41527327)

Except that requires experts in the field to be able to spot very fine details in scientific findings. This is often times hard to do. Not to mention when two expert scientists differ on items, it becomes hard for anyone outside that field to really have any idea whose actually right.

In these cases, it is absolutely valuable to be able to get access to the personal emails and other items relating to the finding. If you see emails like:

"Hey Joe. I don't like those findings. See if you can change the graph to make it look less drastic"

"Hey Paul. This really isn't helping our case for policy X."
"Hey man, okay... I'll see what I can do."

A lot of professions struggle with these issus (doctors, lawyers, engineers...)

Re:Emails are not peer reviewed science (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41527459)

If you can't interpret published results, then you sure as hell can't interpret vaguely worded emails. Seriously, fuck you for even thinking that.

The problem... (1)

Kaenneth (82978) | about 2 years ago | (#41526903)

The problem they are trying to stop is frivilous lawsuits intented to harrass or waste their time, ala Scentology

If it's funded with my taxpayer dollars (1)

Vinegar Joe (998110) | about 2 years ago | (#41526961)

I have a right to see it.

Re:If it's funded with my taxpayer dollars (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41527053)

Do you think you have a right to watch people take a shit in publicly funded bathrooms?

Re:If it's funded with my taxpayer dollars (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41527063)

So if you are a medicare or social security recipient, we have a right to see your medical records.

If you drive on a public road subsidized by tax payer dollars, we have a right to see where you drive at all times.

If you breath air protected by tax payer dollars, we have a right to measure every molecule of air that comes in and out of your pie hole.

Sounds fair.

Re:If it's funded with my taxpayer dollars (1)

FhnuZoag (875558) | about 2 years ago | (#41527143)

If it's paid for by my petrol purchases, I have a right to see it.

I don't see Exxon-Mobile or BP divulging *their* corporate emails any time soon.

Re:If it's funded with my taxpayer dollars (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41527399)

You know what more is funded by your tax dollars? the army, demand to join it - or the navy if you already got army experience.

The issue is the science, or the legal system? (5, Insightful)

swb (14022) | about 2 years ago | (#41526973)

Is the issue the scientific process, or is the issue the legal system?

It strikes me as the latter. It seems like a reasonable person would easily conclude that a scientific work in progress would contain a lot of incomplete data, a lot of conflicting theories, explanations and incomplete analysis of the data and the project itself.

However, the "reasonable person" conclusion doesn't seem like any kind of barrier from a legal system which makes it very easy for nearly anyone of means to file broad lawsuits by cherry-picking information and forcing defendants to organize expensive, complex defenses.

I think it's important from a justice perspective for anyone to be able to bring a civil suit, however, I think in some cases the rules should be changed to force some kind of automatic review of civil cases whenever some set of standards, like a large asymmetry between plaintiff and defendant resources or damage claims and require "the big guy" to more clearly explain their losses.

All that being said, I think a lot of scientists need to stick to science and be a little more muted with their political opinions. When scientists are extremely strident with their political views it automatically calls into question the accuracy of their science, especially in light of news stories like the huge increase in fraudulent results (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/02/science/study-finds-fraud-is-widespread-in-retracted-scientific-papers.html).

Scientists who stick to science will tend to be seen more as neutral experts explaining phenomenon and not as biased experts structuring their science to fit their opinions. Furthermore it probably helps the scientists as well, since having a strong political opinion on your research subject is only likely to increase the risk that you'll be tempted to massage your results, conclusions or worse instead of having to face some humiliation for both your theories and your opinions from being repudiated by your own science.

Gary Taubes has done some great reporting in the nutrition field and its remarkable how much the science is weakened when scientists hold strong opinions without strong science to back them up. See his article in Science on salt research for an example.

Why? (2)

jamesl (106902) | about 2 years ago | (#41527061)

Why should these scientists be treated any different from government or corporate employees or private citizens with respect to court orders to release private documents. Everybody needs to learn that all written communications, lab notes, memos, emails, pictures, videos and audio recordings are fair game and should be created with that in mind. If scientists don't like it then change the laws for everyone. Meanwhile, don't do dumb stuff.

Re:Why? (2)

trewornan (608722) | about 2 years ago | (#41527401)

I learned this working for the uk government - everything we wrote could be released under the FOIA and as a result we were careful about what we wrote. I'm glad I had that experience - I don't put anything in an email (or any other written communication) that I would be bothered by having published on the web, read by MI5 or my employer, or even plastered over the tabloids. It doesn't hamper my ability to discuss things with friends or colleagues it just means I'm a little more aware of what I'm writing and think before I do.

If you work for a publicly funded institution that's the situation you're in and for good reasons. If you don't like it get someone else to pay for your research.

a fix maybe?? (1)

RobertLTux (260313) | about 2 years ago | (#41527065)

allow the day to day stuff (not the Reports) be private on an ongoing project but have it accessible after the project (or for more long term projects after say 120 days).

Now it should also be a given that %stupid statement% should be thrown out of any court proceedings IF THAT IS THE ONLY EVIDENCE OF WRONGDOING. This is to prevent something said on hour 30 (without any sleep) from hanging a scientist.

and of course anything that is obviously Personal should be redacted from The Public Record (do i really need to know that somebody likes vegetarian pizza or some other similar Horror??)

No protection. (0)

Quila (201335) | about 2 years ago | (#41527069)

If your research is paid with public money, all but personal information should be available via FOIA, not just a subpoena. If your research is privately funded, then it should be available by subpoena if it is relevant to a case.

In other words, BP will be able to use all the scientists' correspondence, records, and preliminary results to call their estimates into question.

Your research will be the basis on which another party is penalized by the legal system. In its defense, the party believes it has the right to see your research in order to mount a defense. Isn't this how it is supposed to work? If the defense tries to poke holes in research during the trial, I'm sure the other side will call the scientists or expert witnesses to defend their research.

Allowing this special protection effectively guts the defense of anyone who has scientific research results used against him in court.

Re:No protection. (2)

gstoddart (321705) | about 2 years ago | (#41527409)

Your research will be the basis on which another party is penalized by the legal system. In its defense, the party believes it has the right to see your research in order to mount a defense. Isn't this how it is supposed to work? If the defense tries to poke holes in research during the trial, I'm sure the other side will call the scientists or expert witnesses to defend their research.

Because then instead of doing peer-reviewed science, you can easily get someone with an agenda who is going to bully the scientists into engaging in stupid petty legal games.

You can see the data, but unless you have evidence of some conspiracy by the scientists involved, what does this serve?

Otherwise you're just doing science by a judge and jury, and if you can convince a court that, say, evolution doesn't have enough supporting math -- well, then you can declare it invalidated. The idea of who has the most lawyers deciding scientific outcomes is absurd.

I don't see the benefit in allowing the legal system to decide how the process of science works. In fact, it seems like it would be a great detriment to it.

Waaaah. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41527071)

They're not special. If the documents are relevant, they can be subpoenaed, just like anyone else's documents. Deal with it.

The solution of loss of trust is not to hide (1)

SuperKendall (25149) | about 2 years ago | (#41527095)

Currently the public at large is trusting scientists less and less as a group.

If you wan to regain trust, you don't do that by asking to hide more of what you are doing and thinking. You gain that trust back by being more open, more transparent about every step.

Science as a whole would be hurt by efforts like this to make scientists even less accountable for how they conduct research.

Re:The solution of loss of trust is not to hide (2)

gstoddart (321705) | about 2 years ago | (#41527619)

Science as a whole would be hurt by efforts like this to make scientists even less accountable for how they conduct research.

Is this about being less accountable, or muddying the waters by attacking the process of science by which people work through to their final conclusion?

Part of the process is to take a contrary position to try to poke holes in your argument ... if some lawyer latches onto something from that process, and focuses on it instead of the final results, they can do a really good job of muddying the waters and making it look like the conclusions aren't justified.

This could also have the effect of causing universities to expend huge amounts of resources to defend the process in court -- and I can guarantee you that big pharma and oil companies can bury almost any university in legal actions to make it impossible for them .

I think science as a whole would be hurt by having the day-to-day process constantly opened up to lawyers and people with a vested interest in getting different results.

Science as tool of public policy (1)

John Jorsett (171560) | about 2 years ago | (#41527113)

If the output of scientific research is going to be used as input in the creation of public policy, as it increasingly is, then it's in the public interest to know exactly how the results were arrived at and any potential conflicts of interest that the researchers might have been subjected to. Scientists are just as capable of bias, conflicts, stupidity, and corruption as anyone else, and the way you uncover any of that is thru disclosure and, yes, an adversarial process. That process might take the form of aggressive peer review, or even skeptics demanding discovery during lawsuits. That's the system we have for getting everything out on the table where it can be examined.

Re:Science as tool of public policy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41527501)

Yeah, that would be fine if legislature was beholden to the Scientific Method too, but it's not. Eg: Lets do X to everyone without any small scale trials first! Let's prove Y based on opinions and allow even a modicum of doubt -- "beyond a reasonable doubt", Who gets to reason what's doubtful? Fucking Opinions Have No Place In Science or Law!

Companies do this too (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41527215)

The organization I work for (which shall go nameless so I can continue to get my paycheck) has this same issue: lots of documents, emails, and the like express opinions and emotions that may not reflect accurately upon the final product. They might even (typically incorrectly) indicate the product is unsafe or dangerous. As you might expect, lawyers in lawsuits LOVE to find those emails and documents. Our corporate solutions? Destroy all documents after about 90 days that are not deemed business critical. The emails and the like just get wiped out. It has vastly reduced the corporate risk. Though, we also regularly have classes about how important it is to avoid emotional emails with words like "failure" and "disaster" in them. Often, the lawyer-speak in these meetings is hilarious. HIghly recommended as a way to ease into your Monday morning.

In the name of transparency (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41527257)

In principle, any published paper should be repeatable by third parties, but this is not always the case due to (1) Specialized equipment, (2) Specialized reagents, (3) access to material for testing, etc. I think it is reasonable for a group or corporation to ask for raw data and processing methods, and maybe even lab notes, if they think a published result is suspicious. But this should be if and only if there is some evidence of falsification or some other impropriety. Otherwise, this just becomes an abuse of the legal system and a dangerous undermining of independent research. Any party with the means and/or power can threaten or halt research they do not like. Any disagreement with rigorously attained results should be settled by a qualified, independent 3'rd party.

Frost pIst (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41527279)

Creek, abysmal cOnversation and

Disclaimer (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41527301)

Make up a generalized acronym meaning something like;
The included data/text/wranglings may or may not be related to the on-going discussion, and may have been maid while drunk/inebriated/stoned or blitzed or out of their mind with worry about tenure/children/food/housing/transportation or something else equally distracting. Poor statements, bad manners, threats and such should be taken with a large bag of salt.

Science should be transparent (2)

gerardrj (207690) | about 2 years ago | (#41527371)

The process is ugly, but that's not a valid reason to hide the process from the world. If scientists are just going to provide the end result as a decree to which we are all supposed to adhere, then what you have is a religion.

When you decide to obscure or hide away the scientific process, you kill science.

Re:Science should be transparent (1)

jo_ham (604554) | about 2 years ago | (#41527635)

They're not doing that though. They're arguing that BP'd request for all their personal inter-office communication be provided to them along with the 50,000 pages of data that they willingly provided to BP that makes up the backbone of their research work.

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